Tuesday, February 24, 2015

[DHAKA] Somewhat Pink, Somehow Scented


The highlight of the day was Ahsan Manzil. Once the European inspired residence of one of the most influential families in the region, the interior of the palace has since been converted into a museum while the parks outside are usually maintained and serve as a popular hangout spot for locals. With the very active Buriganga River in front, you’d think that the place would somehow stink, but this is not the case. If anything, the ambiance of the place is somehow scented with an air of history and pride for this young nation.


The building itself did not appear to be predominantly pink when it was erected for the first time, but yes, nowadays it is somewhat pink. This is, in part, because of the renovation efforts of the government. In fact, most of the historical tidbits displayed inside mainly talk about the rehabilitation of the mansion, in accordance to old photos and journals written by the nobility who once lived there. Before and after pictures of the renovation efforts are also displayed, and the improvements have been awesome so far.


The place used to be so dilapidated and reminiscent of Silent Hill. Now it’s all pink and popular among locals and tourists alike. Admission fee is 100 taka for non-SAARC foreigners, while locals get a very good discounted rate. It is helpful to note that this place is best visited as part of your Old Dhaka itinerary including the river port, the Star Mosque and the Armenian Church, as these attractions are just close to one another. A rickshaw could also take you to Lalbagh Fort.


You are not allowed to take photos inside the premises, but the lack of security personnel means that you could get away with it anyway. I was not in the mood for violating rules and regulations that day so I decided to just immerse myself in Dhaka’s interesting colonial history. The second floor is also accessible to visitors, although you have to take the stairs at the back instead of utilizing the grand stairwell, which has been renovated as well but deemed too unstable to hold so much weight.


The interior of the palace is now just a mere shadow of what it once was, and this is where your imagination would come to play once you see the old photos. You would probably be spending just as much time outdoors where tourists usually flock to take selfies as well as photos of the building itself. Expect very good photos especially when the sun is up. Did I mention that there are very colorful flowers in front which complement the color of the facade really well?


I was ambushed by a pair of Bangladeshi youth on my way out, one right after another. I am usually wary of such spontaneous interactions because most of the time the parties involved just try to scam me, in general. This was different, though, as the two young lads seemed to be genuinely curious. You see, Dhaka does not receive a lot of tourists, and one of them explained to me that chatting with foreigners is a good method of knowing more about other countries’ customs, given how they themselves could not travel that much due to financial and visa restrictions.


In a way, that chat was an eye opener and made me realize how much Manila and Dhaka are similar in many, many ways. Heck, even this pink palace could be compared to Malacañang by the Pasig River, what more if the head of state actually resided here at present! Hungry and now sun-glazed, I excused myself to leave, but not without asking how to say “Star Mosque” in the vernacular. That really helped a lot in locating the place even after my failed attempt to just walk all the way there.


The streets of Old Dhaka are just as vibrantly chaotic as that of Old Manila. Think Quiapo and Divisoria and you’d have a clear picture of what I am trying to say here. Taking a stroll down the roads of Old Dhaka must be the closest thing to a South Asian leg of the Amazing Race that I would experience in this lifetime. It was surreal, believe me. I eventually surrendered trying to navigate the area on my own and commissioned a rickshaw to take me to the mosque, which happened to be a mere five minute ride away from where we were.


The Star Mosque is popular not because of its size. Just like the Khan Mohammad Mridha, this one is really small and located in the middle of a densely populated area. The place is frequented by tourists because they are usually amused by the starry motif the domes are sporting. You could go inside as long as it is not prayer time. I no longer did because I did not see the need for it. One guy approached me and asked to hold both hands with him as if praying together, which he said is traditional for Islam. And then he walked away.


Instead of visiting the Armenian Church, I just decided to drop by Lalbagh Fort again which was open this time around. The sun has been bitching all day, though, and the lack of shade in the area was not very inviting. In any case, I paid the 200 taka admission ticket and went inside, where I was greeted once again with curiosity and questions as to where I was from. I saw around four foreigners this time around, but they were all accompanied by locals.


The fort bore witness to a lot of historic events, mainly bloodshed due to its military background. Some portions of the original walls are still intact. Again, locals get a huge discount so this serves primarily as a place for them to chillax or have a date. The vast area doubles as a park and you can find lots of colorful flowers there. The sunflowers were impressive, staring at the sun like that like they wanted to go blind.


The three main attractions would be the tomb, which is the one figuring in most camwhore photo-ops. The one to the right appears to be a mosque and has a separate entrance from the main road. I have no idea what the one to the left actually is, but I’ve heard rumors that it had a crucial role in the supply of water back in the day. There are pools all around the place, complete with fountains back then, I assume. Nowadays, they are just dry and serve as an option for claiming insurance if you “accidentally” fall into one of them.


By the way, you could visit the Parliament on your way to or back from Old Dhaka as it is located halfway if you are staying somewhere near the airport. Due to security reasons, you would not be able to enter the premises unless you book in advance and drop around 500 taka. You don’t have to because you could take a good photo from one of the side streets, which you could do while having a leisurely stroll preferably late in the afternoon when the sun has lost its energy for the day.

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